Lee Barwood

Paranormal, Mystery, and Environmental Fiction

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Gail Gipp, manager of the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

Dr. Jon Hanger, head veterinarian at the Australian Wildlife Hospital, and friend

The Environment:
The Beat of Gaia's Heart


July 7, 2007


Welcome to The Beat of Gaia's Heart, the newsletter about animals, the environment, and things you can do to help the Earth and each other.

Each month (more often, if time allows) there will be a new installment, with articles, reviews, and interviews with people who can help you make a difference for Planet Earth, for yourselves, and for the future, even if that difference is just in the way you look at things.

To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

Whether it's a look at solar power for your home, recycling that works, or kinder cleaning products, "green" investment strategies or ways to stop cruelty where you see it, or how to bring about change for the better at home and within your community, The Beat of Gaia's Heart will give you ways to make life better. Articles about animal and plant life, ideas that work, and the effect nature has on us all will bring you more in touch with the web of life.

We are all a part of the web. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
--attributed to Chief Seattle

* * *

This is the first issue, and this month the focus is on koalas -- and Australian wildlife in general.

Koalas have always been very special to me, but it might surprise you to know that, beyond their cute and cuddly exteriors, they hold a powerful and even mystical place in Australian Aboriginal folklore. They wield shamanic abilities and are thought to have the power to sing the trees into growing and the rain into stopping. Koala was given the right to make the laws, and to induce drought if ever he was not treated with respect. It was a koala who was thought, in one Aborigine tale, to have brought green growing things to the Carnarvon Gorge. And the koala was able to be friends with the bunyip, the mythical (or was he?) creature so feared by the Aborigines.

Koalas are in a bad way in Australia these days. While they have not been declared endangered, their numbers fall daily from loss of habitat, disease, attacks by non-indigenous wildlife and domestic pets, being hit by traffic and trains, drowning in swimming pools, and stress. Wildfires earlier in 2007 destroyed not only thousands of acres of the eucalyptus trees they depend on for food and safety, but also most of a large and healthy population of koalas. Some of those koalas were helped by the Australian Wildlife Hospital, for which I am raising money through the sale of one of my books. And this month's newsletter features an interview with Dr. Jon Hanger, the head veterinarian of the Hospital.

An Interview with Dr. Jon Hanger, head veterinarian of the Australian Wildlife Hospital

The groundbreaking work of Dr. Jon Hanger on behalf of koalas covers a broad range, from his thesis on the connection between koala leukemia and the koala retrovirus to ongoing studies on the link between that retrovirus and chlamydiosis. He is also supervising research into the migration patterns of rehabilitated koalas and their success rate in forming new home ranges. Dr. Hanger founded Wildcare Australia (Australian Koala Hospital Association Inc.) in 1993, and is still the principal consulting veterinarian there.

But his expertise isn’t limited to koalas or even Australian animals. Dr. Hanger treats the exotic animals at Australia Zoo, and has put his devotion to animals and his love of science to good use in work that helps wildlife not only in Australia, but in other parts of the world. He’s journeyed to Banda Aceh to provide, with his team, medical care to the elephants searching for bodies in the wake of the tsunami, and he and his team also provided humanitarian aid to the forest guards who were affected. He has also taken part in many other wildlife rescue operations.

We were fortunate to chat with Dr. Hanger at length, and he gave us some insights into what drives him. His passion for the care of all wildlife shines clearly through his words.

What was your strongest motivator in going into animal medicine?

My father is a retired judge and his father was a judge, and I have uncles who are barristers. I broke the mold. I was always an animal lover from a tiny little tot, so my earliest memories are being fascinated with animals and getting upset if they were hurt. And I wanted to be a scientist. So I put the two together. Being a veterinarian is a good way to meld science and the love of animals. [That goal] came very early in life. I was strongly motivated.

There is a lot of action these days in the field of animal law. What kind of legislation do you feel is most necessary? The most useful?

I have pretty strong opinions on animal welfare things, and what we’re doing to the environment and the natural world. There’s the concept of intergenerational equity.

[Intergenerational equity is a concept that asserts, among other things, that future generations have the same right to a habitable planet, biodiversity, and survival that previous generations have enjoyed – that the present generation is a steward of the planet for those who will come after.]

Some of my strongest feelings are about our current system of laws, which does not adequately enable us as a society to protect the environment, natural assets, and species for future generations. And there’s little long-term accountability of government for what they’re doing. It galls me that people make these decisions that are not in the interests of our children and grandchildren. The fact is that our political systems have no mechanism to make politicians accountable for environmental vandalism.

From an animal welfare point of view, the state regulations that cover animal welfare are all hazy on welfare with respect to wildlife, particularly in the clearing of bushland habitat and the animal welfare impacts of that. These are huge issues when you put a bulldozer through habitat that you know is teeming with wildlife. One of the things we’ve done recently is write a draft code of practice for how wildlife habitat should be cleared, or attended to during the process of tree clearing. It’s not good enough to bury your head in the sand and send in dozers because “we can’t see the wildlife.” We’ve been working on a land-clearing job for a rail line; two towns close to us are going through bushland, and we’ve been applying code. And the number of animals you can recover from those operations is huge, if you apply yourself to it [humane trapping for relocation, etc.]. It makes you realize how many individual animals are killed, and maimed, and displaced, and die of starvation, and predated, and subject to territorial aggression – the animal welfare aspects of land clearing have to be close to our hearts and minds. Animal welfare laws don’t adequately deal with that. The nature conservation act and welfare act are not dealing with it.

In Queensland, it’s coming way too late. The state government decided it would abolish broad-style land clearing in Queensland. Clearing any block of land over one hectare, if it was in remnant vegetation, was going to be banned by 31 Dec. 2006. [But they] warned everyone, and made a big hoo-ha. The Brigalow belt, which is fairly harsh dry scrub, runs inland from southeast Queensland and spreads up the central third to halfway up the state. It’s got a very good biodiversity of reptiles and koalas – dry – harsh for humans, and fragile, that cannot recover well from damage. That was where a lot of farming lands were.

I was talking with a farmer who had D-9 bulldozers. These are big bulldozers, and they do the clearing by suspending chains between the bulldozers – each link [of the chains] might weigh 40 kilos or more, four times the size of a football. He was working those 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, after the Beattie government announced the changes in the rules. There was a massive and unforgivable amount of damage done; people had two years [between the announcement of the coming legislation and when it took effect] to get rid of the scrub. No one is held personally held accountable for that. People thought, “We might want to use the land in the future, so let’s clear it now.” Once [these areas are] cleared, they’re considered regrowth areas and can be cleared again without permit. On the surface they said it was good, but it did such damage. There was no mechanism of limiting [the destruction]; it was unforgivable. Now the Brigalow Belt is most critically endangered. If you use Google Earth and scan from southeast Queensland to the west, to the corner of the state, it’s the middle section. You’ll see how little habitat there is and how fragmented it is. That’s a loss of connectivity. That’s extinction debt – the fact that we’ve created a damaged environment such that extinction is assured within five, ten, twenty, or fifty years.

[Extinction debt postulates that, once a habitat has been damaged or destroyed, the creatures that live in the remnants of the habitat are doomed to extinction. This is due to many factors, including a lack of regenerative capability in the habitat itself – which denies the remnant populations enough food, water, and range to survive.]

It’s human nature; it’s greed, and it’s never going to change.

At this hospital, our business is patching up sick and injured wildlife. These are individuals subject to lack of regard and lack of care. They are the personal and individual tragedies of environmental degradation.

I’m not a religious man, but I find that the serenity prayer is a good one to apply to these circumstances.

[Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.]

How sad. And so much work to be done. But since you are helping these animals, what is your most satisfying case to date?

Steve. There are a lot of Steves. But Steve is special because he came when we really only just opened up and when fixing broken jaws in koalas was sort of unheard of. I hadn’t done it. We hadn’t had the resources and the time to look after them. He was one of the first for multiple facial fractures. His face [was swelled up] like a balloon. It looked like a football. He was horribly banged up, and spent three weeks in intensive care. The best moment was when we took him out for a bit of sun, and he looked up and sniffed the breeze and felt the sun – he went from depression, locked in ICU, to the realization that the sun was still out and the breeze was still there and there was a gum tree. That was the turnaround for him. He was one of the first really difficult patients [in terms of extensive injuries] we had.

The first ones tend to be the most memorable. There was a turtle called Shelley, a 60-kilo green turtle. She was a floater. That happens when gases are accumulating in the bowel or in the shell cavity. When they float, they can’t dive to eat and forage. Shelly had a parasitic infection of coccidiosis. We ended up keeping her for three months, and the turning point was the first day when we stuck a fish in her mouth and she ate really well from then on. We’ve treated a lot of turtles, but she was the first we had and she was quite memorable.

We’ve had ten thousand animals since we opened. We euthanize at least fifty percent of what walks in the door. Probably at least another third of those admitted will end up either dying or being euthanized later. The release rate back into the wild is probably only about a third.

I’d like to think this hospital is working best practice – but the success rate is fairly low. That’s indicative of the severity of injury and illness by the time they get presented to us. Koalas have this retrovirus which I did my Ph.D. on – it’s far more insidious and causes an AIDS-like condition. A lot of koalas are coming here sick, and have underlying AIDS – their illnesses are probably caused by this virus and others. It’s very prevalent in Queensland and New South Wales; it’s less prevalent in Victorian koalas. It impacts their ability to deal with chlamydia and other diseases. We don’t have a test for the AIDS condition, so we rely on circumstantial evidence. That’s a key training process not being recognized at a government level, and it should be. We’re trashing their habitat like there’s no tomorrow. Strong koala habitat is in areas where people want to live. Insidious diseases have the ability to wipe out remnant populations. We’re fragmenting population into one or two or fifty individuals. Throw in a couple of diseases, and you have extinction debt syndrome. You just tip 95% of the population into extinction, because we haven’t been mindful [of them and their needs].

Do you use alternative treatments at the Hospital (Reiki, acupuncture, homeopathy, Therapeutic Touch, that sort of thing)? If so, what do you find most effective? If not, why not? Was it a decision or simply a lack of alternatively trained personnel available?

I’ve tried acupuncture on a few animals and I don’t mind people trying Reiki but I have to say alternative therapies – I expect them to undergo the type of testing that conventional therapies do. [That said,] koala females get pouch infections – sometimes from a joey dying or trauma – and thing I’ve found effective for those is to cut off a chunk of aloe vera and mix that with antibiotic and use that.

But in wildlife we haven’t explored a lot of those alternative therapies. Partly because they’re not offered to us, and people who work here don’t know much about them. And secondarily because I’ve got to be mindful of whether it’s going to work. [It’s tough to use a therapy that requires an] animal sitting still, or that’s invasive, and [one has to consider the] perception of volunteers. I’m open to allowing them to be tried from time to time. They have not been subjected to double-blind trials. We use techniques that are proved over the years.

We encourage volunteers to spend time with the animals, holding them, and if it’s done with love and compassion, like Reiki, it makes a difference.

I was in private practice and I remember a client with a cat with a spinal lesion that couldn’t void its bladder. Poor cat. The owner didn’t want to euthanize it and wanted to use other invasive therapies but it would cause more pain.

From a welfare point of view, I have reservations. In other things, I’m open to them.

What does it take to be a volunteer at the Hospital (training, experience, etc.)? What do they do?

We have a fairly regular flow of people who are wanting to volunteer, and as long as they present well, they’re invited to come in and spend time with experienced volunteers. We’ve got about sixty or seventy altogether, and probably about twenty or thirty who come in regularly. They do the cleaning of cages, feeding, they spend time with the animals, take them for walks. People ring up and volunteer and fill out a sheet. The time they give can range from two to three days a week to one day a month.

What does it take to be a rehabilitator?

Generally there are wildlife rescue groups that operate in southeastern Queensland. Wildcare Australia has a network of wildlife carers who do rescues and hand rear marsupial orphans – birds, possums, gliders, bats, birds – a whole network. Sometimes people come in to volunteer for that and we send them to one of these groups. Wildcare Australia has a good program to train them. We regulate vet service; if they’re rearing an animal, they’d bring it to us if it needs care. It’s free vet service. Sometimes local vets are amenable to seeing wildlife, and sometimes not.

There’s a feral center for [private practice] vets with [wildlife] cases too difficult for them. It requires a high level of expertise.

What’s the biggest difference between being a vet in private practice and working for the Hospital?

The biggest difference in how we apply care is that we live in luxury in terms of not limited by a client’s budget. An animal comes in, and if it needs blood tests or x-rays, we can apply very high standards of veterinary care that’s not limited by a budget. We can practice good veterinary science. A private practice vet will get a client with a dog with a skin infection or allergy. From a vet’s point of view, it’s appropriate to do a skin culture to see if it’s staph or something else, or a biopsy or a blood test to see if there’s underlying disease. But the reality is that the customer wants a quick fix, and often you’ve got five or ten minutes for a dog with skin disease. [If that happened at the Hospital,] we might spend an hour working it up . Private practice is a high throughput system, with short consultations, and the client wants a quick fix. If you tell client they can spend three hundred for a biopsy, or do antibiotics, which is far cheaper, they’ll take that and that’s understandable. They have a limited budget. And they also have an attitude problem; they may say, “I’ve paid five dollars for this kitten, and I don’t want to spend more than five dollars for the medicine.”

Private practice vets have a huge case load, and no time to work up cases – and then there’s the quality of the veterinary science. We [at the Hospital] have the luxury of a secure funding base. We can practice good standards and get a proper diagnosis and not cut corners. We give antibiotics when indicated. But if an animal’s got chest disease, we do an x-ray and whatever else is needed.

If a private practice vet wanted to treat wildlife, what would be the biggest difference in how he would practice?

If a private practitioner wants to treat wildlife, the main limiting factor is the time they can spend on their wildlife cases. Wildlife needs to be worked up carefully, meticulously. Our greatest criticism is private practitioners who do a little wildlife care and don’t use basic tests or microscopy to work up a case. They treat a fungal disease like candidiasis with antibiotics and wonder why it’s not responding. They’ve made it worse. They didn’t look at a fecal smear, which would have taken five minutes. And they’re worried they won’t know what they’re looking at anyway. An animal may have diarrhea for weeks before they send it to us.

A lot of vets don’t care much for wildlife. There’s a negligible wildlife component in Queensland veterinary training.

How many hours a day do you devote to this? What’s a typical day like?

Ten to twelve hours. During the busy season it can blow out a bit. A lot of cases are severe traumas – not the kind of thing you can put into a cage and deal with the next day. July to December is the breeding season for koalas, and also the time a lot of juveniles and two- to three-year-olds are dispersing, and it all gets back to habitat fragmentation. All the juveniles are dispersing and trying to find places to live; they get hit by cars, attacked by dogs, fall into swimming pools, run over by trains. Trauma cases skyrocket and are represented by these two- and three-year-olds.

Do you have a favorite part of the job? If so, what is it?

I guess releasing animals. You’re really elated if they can go and they’ve suffered a lot and had the guts to come through. They’re fighters. To see them climb a tree or swim away, that’s the best part of it. To see a koala shoot up a tree – there’s no sadness. We’re thrilled that they can do that, especially if you can put them in a safe habitat. The government wants us to put them back where they came from. That’s the stupidest thing – to put them back in to danger – and then you get a phone call from one of the rescuers, “We found Harry dead on the road this morning.” . . . The risk of being killed or injured is really high.

What would you most like to see happen at the Hospital? In Australia?

What I would most like to see is for us to grow to a point where we’re not limited by money and where we have built up the respect of the government and the weight of public opinion. To go to governments about these key threatening processes and have the credibility to say that, and have them take us seriously. Have them take action. To have acess to higher-level politicians but not bureaucrats.

Time is the most limiting factor for me. The Hospital is such an incredible, powerful tool for changing the views of politicians. I want to make the most of it. And operate at such a level to make the politicians come and see what’s happening, to see the suffering animals. Then they get it.

When they have a personal one-on-one with a victim, then they really get it. It’s a really powerful thing. There’s not a person who’s gone out unchanged if they’ve had that connection.

I want to maximize its ability to do its core business helping injured and sick animals, but also to change public perception and political perceptions of the decision-makers to change things. To get them through to be affected, to have a patient touch their heart.

It’s not about conservation of species or land – that doesn’t have that heart-to-heart thing. A lot of people are critical of wildlife rehabilitation. You need that personal twang to make people realize what it’s all about. You have to be able to make them internalize it. “How would I feel if my home was destroyed and I was starving, and my children were killed?”

Sustainable use is something else I’d like to change – the view that “as long as there’s lots of possums left we can use their skins then it’s okay.” There’s a lack of ethics behind sustainable use.

What is the most useful thing people in America can do to help Australian wildlife, other than sending money? Is there something they can do from such a great distance?

Keep applying political pressure. Vote green, live green, and apply pressure to these industries.

What would you say to people anywhere about wildlife care?

Treat them with compassion and empathy and respect. And teach children compassion.

People are too dismissive about caring about individuals.

And each one of the patients at the Australian Wildlife Hospital is an individual. When the terms of habitat loss and illness and injury are reduced to these individual terms, and the staff at the Hospital deal with traumatized individual living, suffering creatures every day, it makes the reality of the need, and the immediacy of it, so much greater.

We thank Dr. Hanger for spending the time with us for this interview, and hope that his words have moved you to a new understanding of the need for wildlife care – not just koalas, not just in Australia, but all over the world.


There’s so much hype in the news these days about global warming, pollution, species extinction, drought, flooding, catastrophic storms, and disease – you name it, it’s got a headline – that many people are more overwhelmed than motivated to take action. It’s such a huge problem, many think; how can I possibly have any effect on it?

It is a huge problem, but we got to this place by the actions of many. And by the actions of many, we’ll solve it – or at least, to be mindful of Dr. Hanger’s Serenity Prayer, find ways to live with the things we can’t change.

To that end, here are a few suggestions.

1.Choose a goal.
Whether it’s simplifying your life, greening your lifestyle, making your home more energy-efficient, or finding a meaningful career, choose something to work on – something that really motivates you. And don’t let the size of the task intimidate you. Whether it’s starting a no-kill animal shelter or encouraging your town to go green, reducing the use of pesticides in your neighborhood or clearing out a vacant lot to use as a community vegetable garden, if it resonates within your heart that’s what you should be doing. And if you join up with people who share your passion, there’s nothing you can’t do.

2. Make a list.
If your goal includes lots of things, then list them. The very action of making a list organizes your thoughts and helps you see the steps you have to take to reach a goal. If your goal, for instance, is to see a new park dedicated in your town, make a list of all the things that would have to happen for that to become a reality: finding a plot of land, finding a way to have that land become town property, getting support from town officials and from residents, getting funding to care for the park – you get the idea.

3. Make a schedule.
Whatever your goal is, set yourself a deadline to get there. Make it realistic, so that you don’t get discouraged – you’re not going to get a perfect organic garden going in a single season – but make it stiff enough that you’ll actually have to work at it to accomplish it. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to put it off till the last minute and never get there.

4. Break things down into smaller parts.
If a problem or a job is too big, it doesn’t seem feasible to do anything about it at all. But as we all know, small actions do have an effect. The ancient Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” is an excellent one to remember. Say your goal is to grow enough organic vegetables to feed your family through a whole year. Sound intimidating? Then break it down. First, read up on what’s necessary – starting a mulch pile, understanding companion planting, selecting vegetables with a large enough yield, learning methods of preservation (drying, canning, freezing), finding classes to teach you what you need to know that you can’t learn from books. Then start to take action – again, breaking things down into manageable steps.

5. Build a network of like-minded people.
The work goes more easily if you can join up with people who share your goals. Habitat for Humanity houses get built by many volunteers, many of whom know a lot about some aspect of homebuilding, and many who know nothing but share an eagerness to work and a willingness to help. The more you network, the more expertise there is to draw on, and the easier it is to find a way to make things happen. Even if your goal is a very private one – say, to make it through a year without buying anything new – if you know people who have done it, and who can advise you on how to improvise, or where to go to borrow or buy secondhand the things you find you really need in the course of that year, you will find support and encouragement.

6. Take that first step.
Once you’ve done all these other things, get started! Don’t wait for tomorrow. Every day you wait puts off the satisfaction of a job well done.

Remember, it may be one small step, but it can lead to massive changes.


While there are loads of great books out there on animals and the environment, this issue I’m leading off with a book that may surprise you. It’s a mystery novel, and I haven’t even read it yet – but it’s set in New Orleans, and the author, Jo Kadlecek, is donating her royalties from it to the rebuilding of that city.

I haven’t read Jo’s new book yet – it’s called Quarter after Tuesday, and it just arrived – but I’ve read her first in the series, A Mile from Sunday, and I was impressed. It’s witty and kind, the latter something rare in a mystery, and it’s also unusual. The heroine, Jonna Lightfoot McLaughlin, child of hippie parents who tried every religion and thus gave their daughter an extraordinarily broad mind about faith, is a religion writer battling her own faults as she searches for the perfect story – and the perfect man. It’s mystery without murder, but readers will not be disappointed; Jo’s style is cozy but fast-paced, and her heroine is eminently likeable without being mushy. Jo’s love for New Orleans, where this story is set, has led her to offer her royalties to help with the revitalization of the Crescent City. Buy the book. Help the city. And have a great summer read!

Other good books to look for – some of which I’ll review in issues to come – include Animal Heart, by Brenda Peterson. This one I have read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. What happens when a man receives a heart transplant – from an animal? How does the heart really function? And what makes an animal lover risk everything to save a creature not even of her own species? Without preaching and without strident messages, this book explores these issues and more – in the midst of an action novel that will make your pulse race.

The Earth Strikes Back, edited by Richard Chizmar, is an anthology of dark stories – what happens when Mother Nature gets angry? This is not a light read, but it packs a wallop.

Then there's Grizzly Lies, by Eileen Coughlan. Another mystery, set in Canada, it weaves a tale of murder and overhunting in the Canadian Rockies.

More books next issue! And lest you think this is all deadly serious business, we'll have children's books and even recipe books to come -- a little something for everyone.


Australian Wildlife Hospital
Wildcare Australia
The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation
The Surfrider Foundation, with local chapters in many coastal areas
Koala books at Koala Jo Publishing

Environmental strategies:
Live Earth
The Lazy Environmentalist
Clean Ocean Action, working to clean up NJ shores
Oregon Swap – a way to trade what you don’t need for what you do

Vegetarian/vegan eating:
Klassic Koalas: Vegetarian Delights Too Cute to Eat; Vegetarian and vegan recipes – some of them free!

Other newsletters:
Bobbing Around, a potpourri of useful and valuable information

"In a world older and more complete than ours, animals move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."
-- Henry Beston

For more links, information, reviews, and suggestions, go to . Or check out my blog on MySpace. See you next month!

Copyright 2007 by Lee Barwood

Selected Works

Love and death tread the boards at a haunted Victorian theater
Love can survive death -- but so can hate. The two collide in this haunted Ozarks tale of betrayal and heroism -- on both sides of the grave.
Australian wildlife images to stimulate creativity in children and adults alike
Vintage wildlife photos illustrate a children's story about koalas
Retellings of eight Australian Aboriginal tales, mostly focusing on the koala -- a powerful figure in Aboriginal lore
Gryphon Award-winning ecological fantasy novel, now available from Double Dragon Publishing (February 2006)
Volume I of The Ribbons of Power, this was Honor Book Award winner in Andre Norton's Gryphon Award competition
Volume II of The Ribbons of Power
A professor is murdered. Can the plot be unraveled?

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